Conceptual artist Damien Hirst is not one to shy away from a statement – and a series of bronze sculptures of a gestating fetus gracing the entrance to a new hospital in Qatar is proof.
The 14 giant sculptures, titled “The Miraculous Journey,” show a fetus growing inside a uterus, from conception to birth, ending with a 46-foot sculpture of a naked newborn baby boy.
They make up Qatar’s expanding portfolio of modern and contemporary Western art as the tiny Persian Gulf nation spends rapidly to modernize its capital before the 2022 World Cup soccer competition.
The sculptures were originally unveiled with great ceremony in 2013 but were covered from public view shortly after. Officials said the sculptures had to be protected from ongoing building work to the $8 billion Sidra Medicine hospital in Doha, but shrouding them followed criticism on social media at the time, Agence France-Presse reports.
“We are not expecting everyone to like them. We are not expecting everyone to understand them,” Layla Ibrahim Bacha, an art specialist with the government-supported Qatar Foundation, which owns most of the Hirst artwork, told AFP.
The country’s rulers are keen to turn Qatar into a cultural destination – an ambition that has to contend with a degree of social conservatism and a Saudi Arabia-led boycott of the nation.
British artist Hirst acknowledged that his work, which took three years to make, could be controversial.
“I suppose the cultural differences are a bit difficult. You know in England, there wouldn’t be a problem with a naked baby, you see the embryo and the egg and sperm,” he told Doha News in 2013.
“You know, culturally, it’s the first naked sculpture in the Middle East … It’s very brave” of Qatar to commission it.
Bacha said the work very much reflects the mission of the hospital, which treats women and children.
“I think it’s perfect for the location, as you can see a lot of people are taking pictures, I think it’s becoming iconic,” she added.
Bacha added that the works were chosen with “specific themes” in mind. “They are not meant to be decorative, they are meant to be creating debates, helping the patient to keep calm,” she added.
The sculptures are among 65 works by high-profile international artists chosen specially for the facility.
On the fourth floor of the building is a neon installation by Turner Prize-winning artist Tracey Emin, entitled “I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You.”
According to local media, the hospital was officially inaugurated last week. It successfully conducted the country’s first surgery to separate conjoined twins last month.